fleuryandjohnson

Fair or not, Pittsburgh Penguins cannot ignore goalie controversy

At some point, you just have to throw out what should happen, what took place in the past and even the acknowledgment of dumb luck and just accept the obvious truth in front of you. The Pittsburgh Penguins are giving Marc-Andre Fleury every opportunity to succeed (and therefore take ownership of his hopeful place as the team’s No. 1 goalie) and he continues to fall short of the mark.

Is it completely fair to Fleury to blame him for an ugly 1-5 start to the season? No, not really. Every loss isn’t his fault, after all, as the team in front of him must be held accountable for each defeat as well. Still, the bottom line is that the team earned a point in every game backup Brent Johnson started (4-0-1) while only earning two points in six Fleury appearances (1-5).

Whether the team plays more responsibly for Johnson or Fleury is the victim of bad luck or tougher matchups, it’s blatantly clear that the Penguins need to ride the hot hand rather than attempting to appease their $5 million man. To be fair to Fleury, I thought I’d take a look at each goalie’s games to see if Johnson is the beneficiary of random luck more than anything else.

Inside Johnson’s numbers

@ New Jersey (Oct. 11): Johnson stopped 30 out of 31 shots for the win. Pittsburgh scored three goals.

vs. Islanders (Oct. 15): Stopped 22 out of 24 shots for the OT win. Pittsburgh scored three goals.

@ Philadelphia (Oct. 16): Stopped 29 out of 30 shots for the win. Pittsburgh scored five goals.

vs. Ottawa (Oct. 18): Stopped 32 out of 34 shots for the win. Pittsburgh scored five goals.

vs. St. Louis (Oct. 23): Stopped 23 out of 24 shots for OT loss. Pittsburgh scored zero goals.

So, overall Johnson allowed only seven goals in five games, stopping a stunning 136 out of 143 shots. The only time he lost, he did it in overtime and the Penguins didn’t give him a single goal to work with. The Penguins allow an average of 28.6 shots per game against Johnson, so it’s not like he’s getting an in-net vacation either.

Let’s compare those numbers with Fleury’s. (Warning: these numbers might get ugly.)

Inside Fleury’s numbers

vs. Philadelphia (Oct. 7): Fleury stopped 24 out of 27 shots in a loss. Pittsburgh scored two goals.

vs. Montreal (Oct. 9): Stopped 24 out of 27 shots in a loss. Pittsburgh scored two goals.

vs. Toronto (Oct. 13): Stopped 10 out of 14 shots; he was pulled from this game. Pittsburgh scored three goals.

@ Nashville (Oct. 21): Stopped 21 out of 24 shots in OT win. Pittsburgh scored four goals.

@ Tampa Bay (Oct. 27): Stopped 26 out of 30 shots in loss. Pittsburgh scored three goals.

vs. Philadelphia (Oct. 29): Stopped 21 out of 24 shots in loss. Pittsburgh scored two goals.

As you can see, it’s pretty hard to give Fleury the benefit of the doubt by simply looking at the numbers. Fleury stopped 126 out of 146 shots, allowing 20 goals in six appearances. While Johnson’s lowest single-game save percentage was 91.7, Fleury did not produce a single game with a save percentage above 90 percent this season.

On top of that, the Penguins are actually playing equal or better defense in front of him, at least from a shots allowed standpoint. (While getting pulled early from that game against Toronto might skew the numbers, the Penguins only allowed 24.33 shots per game against “MAF.”) Johnson experienced marginally better goal support this season (the team scored 16 goals in his five appearances and 16 in Fleury’s six), but hasn’t had any other obvious advantages.

Does this mean that Johnson stands as a better long-term answer than Fleury? No, not unless these trends continue. Simply put, though, their numbers are night-and-day right now. Rather than making the most comfortable decision by not upsetting their big money goalie, the Penguins should make the wise choice and see how much longer Johnson will continue this hot start.

That’s my opinion, though. What do you think the Penguins should do? Should they turn their goalie rotation into a temporary “1a/1b” situation? Do you think the Penguins should give Johnson or Fleury most of the starts? Share your thoughts in the comments.

Clutter-bucks: Isles sign energy guy to five-year, $17.5 million extension

NEW YORK, NY - JANUARY 03:  Cal Clutterbuck #15 of the New York Islanders scores his second goal of the game at 9:53 of the third period against the Dallas Stars at the Barclays Center on January 3, 2016 in the Brooklyn borough of New York City.  The Islanders defeated the Stars 6-5. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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The New York Islanders made a splash on Friday, signing veteran forward Cal Clutterbuck to a five-year, $17.5 million extension — one that carries a $3.5 million average annual cap hit through 2023.

Clutterbuck, 29, has two goals and nine points through 25 games this year, while averaging 15:26 TOI per night (his highest average since joining the Isles four years ago). As per usual, he leads the club in hits — one of the staples of his game — and serves as one of the club’s alternate captains.

This new contract represents a nice raise for the former Minnesota Wild man. His last contract, set to expire in July, was of the four-year, $11 million variety, and carried a $2.75 million cap hit.

This contract also resembles the one GM Garth Snow gave another of the club’s role forwards. This summer, Casey Cizikas signed a five-year, $16.75 million extension — one with a $3.35 million hit — despite the fact he’d never scored more than 30 points in a season, or averaged more than 14 minutes of ice time.

This style of spending — along with splashes made for free agent disappointments Jason Chimera and Andrew Ladd — is sure to raise some questions. The Isles opted not to spend that money on retaining two of their key players from a season ago, Frans Nielsen and Kyle Okposo, and the club has struggled to find its form through the first quarter of this year.

Bettman: Salary cap could stay the same for next season

TORONTO, ON - SEPTEMBER 27:  NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman unveils the League's Centennial celebration plans for 2017 during a press conference at the World Cup of Hockey 2016 at Air Canada Centre on September 27, 2016 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada.  (Photo by Minas Panagiotakis/Getty Images)
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Don’t expect a big jump in next season’s salary cap.

“We’re not going to give out any numbers now,” NHL commissioner Gary Bettman said yesterday, per Yahoo Sports. “The cap could range from where it is now to a couple or so million up, but we’re all going to have to focus on what makes the most sense moving forward.”

The salary cap only went up slightly for the current season, from $71.4 million to $73 million. The only slight increase was due to the lower Canadian dollar, which negatively impacted last season’s league revenues by “$100 or 200 million,” Bettman said earlier this year.

The loonie has been holding relatively steady for around half a year. It’s currently worth $0.76 USD and has been helped by the recent oil rally.

A flat salary cap would be bad news for big spenders like the Chicago Blackhawks, who still need to get Artemi Panarin signed to an extension. The Los Angeles Kings could also be forced to make some tough decisions, as they’ve got Tyler Toffoli and Tanner Pearson in need of new deals. Ditto for the Pittsburgh Penguins, who have key RFAs in Brian Dumoulin, Justin Schultz, and Conor Sheary.

Related: Trades galore? McPhee expecting ‘a massive player redistribution before the expansion draft’

A few ‘bad decisions’ have been costing Lundqvist

New York Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist (30) reacts after giving up a goal to Pittsburgh Penguins center Sidney Crosby (87) during the second period of an NHL hockey game, Wednesday, Nov. 23, 2016, in New York. The Penguins won 6-1. (AP Photo/Julie Jacobson)
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Henrik Lundqvist has set such a high bar that his 12-8-1 record with a .912 save percentage is cause for great concern these days in New York.

That his backup, Antti Raanta, is 6-1-0 with a .932 save percentage only contributes to that concern, because if Raanta can manage those numbers, what’s Lundqvist’s excuse?

“I feel like I’m tracking the puck well, moving well,” Lundqvist told the Daily News. “It just comes down to some bad decisions at times that cost me.”

Indeed, December has not started well for The King. He’s allowed 10 goals in three starts for a save percentage of .894. In Tuesday’s 4-2 loss to the Islanders, his decision to poke check a loose puck led to the winning goal by Andrew Ladd.

But while this month has been a struggle, it should be noted that Lundqvist was mostly excellent in November. He finished with a .925 save percentage, including that 40-save victory on Black Friday in Philadelphia.

Which is to say, he has more than earned the benefit of the doubt. Since 2008-09, Lundqvist has not finished a season with a save percentage below .920, and that is a remarkable achievement.

Raanta was solid again last night in Winnipeg, where the Rangers beat the Jets, 2-1. A starting goalie for tonight’s game in Chicago has not yet been announced, but Lundqvist is a good bet.

Top 10 career save percentages among goalies with at least 300 NHL starts

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Jets send talented rookie Connor to AHL

WINNIPEG, MANITOBA - OCTOBER 23:  Goalie Cam Talbot #33 of the Edmonton Oilers pushes Kyle Connor #81 of the Winnipeg Jets  during the 2016 Tim Hortons NHL Heritage Classic hockey game on October 23, 2016 at Investors Group Field in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada. (Photo by Jason Halstead /Getty Images)
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Kyle Connor is on his way to the minors.

On Friday, Winnipeg announced that Connor — the former Michigan Wolverines star taken 17th overall in 2015 — has been assigned to the club’s AHL affiliate, the Manitoba Moose.

Connor, 19, had just one goal and four points through 19 games this year, struggling to adjust to life at the professional level.

He’d been a healthy scratch for each of the Jets’ last six games and, prior to that, missed five games with an upper-body injury after getting nailed into the boards by L.A. forward Kyle Clifford.

The Jets are getting healthy up front, which further explains why Connor is on his way to the Moose. Bryan Little and Mathieu Perreault both recently returned from injury.